Four days after the Democrats’ impressive Election Day victory, the commentary keeps streaming in, almost to the point of overkill. Today’s Guardian, though, ran a particularly poignant piece from Martin Kettle:
Every poll for months had signalled a serious Republican defeat. Reporting from America in May, I was told that no Republican strategist believed they could hold the House of Representatives. As David Broder, the dean of American political reporters, wrote this week: “Never was a political wipeout better advertised in advance than the one that hit the Republican party on Tuesday.” Which part of the word defeat did my correspondents not understand?
What happened this week was not complex. It was the crash of the conservative political project begun by Newt Gingrich in 1994 and crystallised under George Bush since 2000. It was the crash heard round the world. It came in the form of a nationwide protest against the Iraq war and Bush’s presidency. A new survey of actual voters, conducted since election day by Bill Clinton’s former pollster, Stan Greenberg, confirms that Iraq was by far the most important issue that influenced Americans’ votes. The divide among those for whom Iraq was the most important issue went 3:1 in favour of the Democrats. That, in a nutshell, explains what happened.
The use of the word crash is important if we are to understand the new situation in Washington. This was not an election in which the traditional Democratic vote finally roused itself to overturn Republican rule. It was an election in which the Republican coalition that has gradually come to dominate America since the civil-rights acts of the 1960s suffered a huge existential hit as a result of Bush and Iraq.
The Democrats did not just win among the usual groups such as the poor, women and black people. This time they won among the middle class too, among small-town voters, among every age group and – crucially and emphatically – among independents and moderates. Even where the Democrats lost they polled significantly, taking 45% in the south, 28% of white evangelical Christians, 20% of conservatives and 15% of people who voted for Bush in 2004. These strong showings among unlikely groups help explain why Democrats won congressional seats in so many “red” states this week and why the win that finally gave them control of the senate came from the near south.
An “existential hit”, huh? Maybe this explains Bush’s surprising (for him) decision to read Albert Camus’ The Stranger this summer. Preparation?
And, speaking of Bush reading Camus, it might have gone a little something like this (check out the link). Brilliant.